On December 19, Russia faced another unprecedented challenge in its relations with Turkey. Never before had a NATO country air force shot down the Russian warplane with pilot on board. It happened on November 24, 2015 over Syria. Never before has Russia’s diplomatic corps faced such a coward attack on the territory of a NATO country. It happened yesterday, in Turkey’s capital city.
Although there are fundamental differences between those two incidents, something does link these two tragedies - Syria, a years-long conflict in the heart of Middle East.
When Turkey’s F-16 fighter jet shot down Russian Su-24 warplane over Syria, the relations between Moscow and Ankara were at the height of friction. Countries having close relationships with both Russia and Turkey helped reaching certain thaw in the relationships this summer. Political contacts were resumed at all levels and were even intensified when it came to Syria.
By December 19, the relations of Moscow and Ankara have attained a new quality and the two countries managed to do what they have never done before – they have reached an arrangement over Aleppo and its implementation in practice. Evacuation of militants with their families from Aleppo to the neighboring Idlib province became possible after intensive talks between Russian and Turkish military and diplomats. This shows that Moscow and Ankara are able to agree even over Syria.
A range of conspiracy theories has emerged after Ambassador Andrei Karlov’s assassination in Ankara. These theories claim attention at least because the murderer was liquidated at the scene. One can see on video footage that they did not even try to capture him alive. The man cried out some slogans on Aleppo and Syria. One can guess from those slogans, that it was a “revenge” for Moscow’s actions and policy in Syria.
Did he act alone? Alternatively, did anyone, any group or organization back him? This is one of the key questions today, but it will hardly get any exact answer any time soon.
However, there is an undisputable fact: the Russian ambassador was assassinated at the very moment when Russia and Turkey have achieved an arrangement on Aleppo. At a certain point, even Iran joined them when it was necessary to intervene into the situation and help evacuating people from Aleppo. Iran’s diplomacy responded to the challenge of rebels and peaceful residents of the two Shia villages Foah and Kefraya in Idlib province controlled by “a great variety of” Jihadists.
The geopolitical situation has grown very dangerous for some external actors in Syria by December 20 when a trilateral meeting of the Russian, Turkish and Iranian foreign ministers was scheduled in Moscow. It appeared that Moscow, Ankara and Tehran have found a common point in Aleppo and could settle the situation there.
Not everyone was happy with such turn of events on the military-political and diplomatic map of the Syrian conflict. Referring to “reliable sources,” some Western media reported that a “tripartite alliance” of Russia, Turkey and Iran on the “future of Syria” was anticipated in Moscow today. They mentioned a kind of “secret deal” of the three countries on Aleppo that would pass by U.S. and Saudi Arabia.
It is untimely to make any far-reaching conclusions or linking the murder of the Russian diplomat and the U.S.-Saudi efforts to prevent the above alliance. Hence, Ankara’s arrangements with Moscow and Tehran were growing dangerous for Washington and Riyadh. They had to do something within shortest period before the new president and new administration come to power in U.S.
Prior to the “stab in the back of Moscow” on Nov 24 2015, Russia thought Turkey to be a predictable partner. The spoiled relationships of Russia and Turkey began to recover this summer, following the coup attempt in Ankara in mid-July. However, an important factor is still underestimated. Turkey’s “predictability” has its limits that are determined by the United States, and partially, by the Arab partners of Ankara in the Persian Gulf.
Present-day Turkey is “weak at the knees.” The country with too high foreign policy ambitions and fundamental deficit of domestic security is fighting against Kurds in its own territory and in the north of Syria, experiencing continuous terror attacks amid repressions against domestic policy opponents, military interventions into Syria (Operation Euphrates Shield) and Iraq. All this makes Turkey extremely vulnerable to any external manipulation, though its leadership says it fully controls the situation. In fact, they are not able to “fight on all fronts”.
Turkey’s authorities still try to find benefit in everything and keep ignoring the failures in the system. This time as well, they try to blame U.S.-based preacher and oppositionist Fethullah Gulen and his “terrorist organization.” Meantime, for foreign intelligence or an extremist organization it is not hard now to find an excited radical person, give him a gun and make him chant, “Remember Aleppo.”
The murder of the Russian ambassador has become a clear illustration of an established geopolitical truth. U.S. and some Middle East forces will try their best to prevent any substantive rapprochement of Russia and Turkey, especially with Iran as a concerned party. Building long-tern plans with such Turkey and pursuing regional alliances is fraught with painful consequences. Turkey is still a NATO country and this speaks volumes. Yet, this fact just contributes to involving Russia into the fight on the Turkish political landscape. Among others, Moscow has a right to count on and even demand from Ankara compensation for the losses it has been suffering since last autumn.
EADaily Middle East Bureau